Diagnosing PTSD

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include the following:

  • Exposure to a traumatic event
  • Persistent re-experiencing of the event
  • Persistent memory avoidance
  • Persistent emotional numbing

The first component, exposure, must involve both a loss of physical integrity or risk of serious injury or death to self or others and an intense negative emotional response. The persistent re-experiencing, according to the DSM-IV, must include flashbacks, recurring distressing dreams, subjective re-experiencing of the traumatic event or intense negative psychological or physiological response to any reminder of the traumatic event. The final components, persistent avoidance and numbing, involve the following:

  • Avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, including thoughts, feelings or conversations about the event
  • Avoidance of behaviors, places or people that might lead to distressing memories
  • Inability to recall major parts of the trauma
  • Decreased involvement in significant life activities
  • Decreased capacity to feel certain feelings (this may include complete inability); and, finally, an expectation that one’s future will be somehow constrained in ways not normal to other people.

Characteristics of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is characterized by persistent symptoms of increased arousal not present prior to the traumatic event or events. These symptoms, all physiological response issues, include the following:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Problems with anger
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Hypervigilance

If these symptoms are present but do not persist for 30 days, the diagnosis is Acute Stress Disorder instead of PTSD. In addition to exhibiting symptoms that persist for more than 30 days, the symptoms reported must lead to impair major areas of life activity, such as social relations, occupational activities, or other important areas of functioning.

Diagnosing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Diagnostic methods for PTSD continue to evolve, and scales are developed to measure the severity and frequency of PTSD symptoms. Recent updates group PTSD symptoms into the following four clusters:

  • Numbing symptoms include a loss of interest and feeling emotionally numb
  • Behavioral avoidance symptoms include avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • Hyperarousal symptoms include trouble sleeping, anger and irritability
  • Dysphoric symptoms include emotional numbing, anger, sleep disturbance and difficulty concentrating

For those who may be suffering from PTSD, they should consult a doctor for a professional diagnosis if they exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Bad dreams
  • Flashbacks
  • Scary thoughts you can’t control
  • Staying away from places and things that remind you of what happened
  • Feeling worried, guilty or sad
  • Feeling alone
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling on edge
  • Angry outbursts
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or others

Need Help with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, please call our toll-free helpline. We are available 24 hours a day and can provide you with the information you need about PTSD and treatment. Don’t wait to get started on your path to recovery, call now.

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